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Former captain of the Alpha Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment John Poindexter (right), shook hands with President Barack Obama as the president awarded Poindexter's troops the Presidential Unit Citation at the White House Tuesday.

Veterans, Fort Irwin unit honored by President Obama

Group receives highest military unit award

WASHINGTON, D.C. • Cpt. Karl Gregory was among four soldiers from Fort Irwin who flew to the nation’s capitol to honor a group of veterans who fought valiantly during the Vietnam War.

The veterans, including 65-year-old John Poindexter, former unit captain, were members of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Alpha Troop who risked their lives in a battle that has remained anonymous in the history books — until now.

Poindexter was among the 86 veterans personally addressed by President Barack Obama at the White House rose garden Tuesday. Obama awarded the Alpha Troop the military’s highest unit honor — the Presidential Unit Citation — the equivalent to each member receiving the Distinguished Service Cross.

The citation recognizes a daring mission the veterans undertook on March 26, 1970, to rescue fellow soldiers from Charlie Troop, who were captured by enemy soldiers. But it also honors the 11th ACR’s active unit at Fort Irwin, including soldiers like Gregory, current troop commander. The unit received a blue streamer that will be attached to the unit’s flag while each veteran received a blue silk badge, said Poindexter, a Houston, Texas, resident.

Gregory, who sat among over 200 veterans, soldiers and family members at the ceremony, said the humbling experience had an unexpected role reversal.

“They kept telling us ‘thank you for your service,’” said Gregory. “They’re shaking your hands like you’re the heroes.”

“We’re here to celebrate what you guys have done,” he said.

Obama, in his speech, noted that it’s taken a long time for the unit to be recognized.

“These men might be a little bit older, a little bit grayer,” Obama said Tuesday, “but make no mistake — these soldiers define the meaning of bravery and heroism.”

For Pasqual “Gus” Guttierez, now age 60 but just a 20-year-old staff sergeant when he arrived in Vietnam in the late 1960s, the president’s words rang true for the veterans, but also applies to current soldiers returning from Iraq.

“I hope they come to an America with open arms,” said the Los Angeles resident, noting how Vietnam veterans were often shamed upon their return.

Guttierez also credits Poindexter, his former superior officer, for several decades of championing the Alpha Troop, wading through bureaucratic tape, even writing a book, to apply for the citation and let people know about the soldiers’ sacrifice. At least 66 U.S. soldiers were killed in the March 1970 battle.

“We’re very very thankful to Cpt. Poindexter and the resolve he maintained,” Guttierez said.

For Poindexter, who said the veterans were “walking on air” at a get-together Tuesday night, it was enough to see his men finally get recognized.

“My sensation is one of pride and joy for the achievements for the men and seeing them honored in such a dramatic fashion,” Poindexter said.

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